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Process automation gets the job done!

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Even though service catalogs are simpler than BPM implementations, there are still pitfalls. "The most common mistake in automating a service catalog process is the failure to identify an owner who is responsible for the process," Oehrlich says. "This is important both for the initial focus and for the continual improvement of the process."

Technology obstacles for service catalogs include integrating them with other systems, such as ERPs, which is necessary to obtain some of the information required for the process. "Cultural barriers remain as well," Oehrlich adds. "Some organizations are resistant to change even if it eliminates the requirement for human involvement in repetitive processes. "But the successful use of IT service catalogs frees the IT staff to work on programs and innovation, which is a much better use of resources." 

Enterprise scale BPM

The appeal of process automation systems that address a single business issue is that they can be implemented quickly, modified easily and deployed at a modest cost. However, an organization may eventually recognize either the need or the potential value of a more comprehensive BPM system. At this point, it may want to consider an enterprise level BPM solution.

"Once a business process has been optimized and automated within a department, the concept achieves project level credibility," says David Millen, VP of business process and decision management at IBM. "The company often then automates additional processes within the department to the program level. Finally, the BPM system can be expanded horizontally across multiple departments and functional areas to support a broader enterprise level transformation in how the company does business."

IBM's BPM platform, WebSphere Business Process Manager, is available in BPM Express, Standard and Advanced versions. The Express version is designed to operate at the project level, allowing users to automate an initial process. Accessible through the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise, it provides a low investment means of gaining corporate buy-in for BPM. The  higher-level versions allow for increasing amounts of collaboration and integration, and are available on a "bring your own license"  basis, also through the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise, to reduce the cost of infrastructure investment.

Enterprise level BPM solutions are no longer the rigid, transaction-based applications that characterized early-generation products. "Nearly three-fourths of companies that are classified as outperformers for their industry categories excel at managing change," Millen says. "Change and agility are a core capability in today's economy, and our BPM products reflect this. Organizations need to be able to add new channels such as mobile, or new domains of business without an extended development cycle."

Companies of all sizes can use an additional product, IBM Blueworks Live, to discover and document their business processes in the cloud. "IT staff and business users can collaborate to focus on the process outcome," Millen says. Blueworks Live is available on a monthly subscription, per user basis. The product allows users to define process flow and implement the automated process within the business. "Thanks to the ‘consumerization' of information technology in general," says Millen, "users are increasingly comfortable with owning a greater portion of application development."

Making the the transition to an enterprise scale BPM system does not necessarily mean parting with an existing process automation application. The service-oriented architectures (SOAs) typical of today's solutions generally have APIs that would allow users to continue using existing functionality and interfaces while integrating with a broader range of processes.

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